Elon Musk is recycling his playbook for Twitter

Ten-dollar account bonuses? Sending money to friends? A high-yield savings account? We’ve seen all of these promises before.

Peter Thiel and Elon Musk hold up their VISA credit cards they use for PayPal at the company's corporate headquarters in Palo Alto in 2000.

Musk has been saying for a while that he wants to turn Twitter into a super app, a do-it-all service that encompasses communication, news, shopping, and payments.

Photo: Paul Sakuma/AP Photo

A lesser man would look at the battered fintech landscape and say, “Party over, oops, out of time.” But not Elon Musk! Musk is going to party like it’s 1999, with his new toy called Twitter.

At the start of 1999, Musk was emailing me about his plans to remake banking with a startup called — plans that accelerated when he merged it with another startup that eventually became PayPal. On Wednesday, he talked up strikingly similar ploys in a Twitter Spaces chat.

Musk had been saying for a while that he wanted to turn Twitter into a super app, a do-it-all service called X that encompassed communication, news, shopping, and payments. These apps have been successful in China — think WeChat — but not so much elsewhere, though that hasn’t stopped American tech companies from trying.

  • What’s most remarkable about Musk’s plans for Twitter is that they sound an awful lot like his playbook from the turn of the millennium: $10 bonuses for new accounts, high-yield savings accounts, sending money to other accounts, and eventually checking accounts and debit cards. (For kicks, I dug up a filing for what was briefly called the “ U.S.A. Money Market Fund.” Retro!)
  • Musk argues that people who are paying Twitter $8 a month for Twitter Blue or earning money from new creator features will decide to just stash their cash with Twitter.
  • Twitter seems serious: It’s registered with FinCEN, which helps oversee money transmitters. (There are a lot of licenses required to be in the money business, as Musk and his compatriots learned the hard way at PayPal.)
  • Oh, and the domain? Musk bought it back from PayPal in 2017.
  • One problem with his scheme: Those $10 bonuses for new accounts? Even the modern PayPal, which tried using them again last year to boost its user numbers, found that they attracted fraudsters. Can you imagine what the spambots will do if Musk waves cash money in their silicon faces?

There’s a bigger problem, though: Musk’s wannabe super app faces a ton of competitors that didn’t exist two decades ago. One of the chief ones is run by someone close to him.

  • Under Jack Dorsey, Cash App has become a major growth engine for Block. It already has those banklike features Musk is talking about. A lot of rappers, celebrities, and porn stars like to tweet their Cash App handles, or “cashtags,” which start with a dollar sign instead of a hashtag.
  • Dorsey supported Musk’s bid for Twitter and rolled his stake into Musk’s new company, so Musk’s competitive push seems like a particularly unkind form of payback. But hey, it’s SIlicon Valley and if you can’t shiv your friends, who can you shiv, really?
  • Anyway, rising rates have surprisingly boosted the fortunes of some neobanks, since consumers now have more of a reason to hunt for yield and consider dumping their paleobanks. If there’s a time to try an revival, it’s now.

The biggest challenge Musk’s super app may face is Musk. He has a famously short attention span and he’s already careened from one idea to another in his mission to reinvent Twitter. As PayPal learned, getting people to trust you with their money requires painstaking attention to detail, from the design of a checkout button to fraud-catching algorithms. Musk hasn’t been in that business for decades. There’s a lot he missed the first time, and a lot he has to learn. And there is little sign that he has the patience required.


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

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The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

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As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

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Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

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Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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